OPEN SECRET is a documentary that chronicles Steve Lickteig’s 20-year search for who his real birth parents were; why a whole town kept the truth from him; and how his family’s tumultuous history revolves around the hidden lives of two unconventional women.
Steve grew up as the adoptee of Don and Mary Jane Lickteig, who ran a farm in Kansas and had eight other (natural) children. Lickteig always wondered who his real parents were and planned to search for them as an adult.
When he was 18 years old, Steve received shocking news from his two best friends: he was not adopted from unknown parents but was actually the illegitimate son of his oldest sister, Joanie. Not only that, everyone in his life had always known the secret: his siblings, his schoolmates, townsfolk, even his girlfriends.
Steve’s anger and confusion led to a long period of estrangement from his family. But his marriage led to a desire for reconciliation. He discovered that the secret to his story lay in the hidden lives of his adopted mother, Mary Jane; his biological mother, Joanie; and his long-lost father, a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor.
OPEN SECRET explores the cost of suppressing history across multiple generations. It follows the wrenching, funny, and liberating process of piecing together an authentic (and inevitably contradictory) family history.
The documentary also looks at life in the much maligned state of Kansas. Beyond the red state/blue state rhetoric, what does it mean to live in the heartland What are the social mores and how do they genuinely impact the people who live there
Both Mary Jane and Joanie came of age at key moments in the twentieth century, when choices for women were exploding. Mary Jane is part of the so-called Greatest Generation. She was young and educated during World War II. In Washington, D.C. she worked for the CIA and then for General Omar Bradley. But marriage to Don Lickteig took her far away from her ambitions and exacerbated her struggle with mental illness.
Joanie escaped abuse and the repression of her Catholic education by running away to Los Angeles on the cusp of the Sexual Revolution. She met a mysterious man who would forever change her life and inspire years of regret.
Both women ended up living lives they did not choose. Steve grew up with an identity that wasn’t true. Confronting that legacy of suppression is the compelling story of OPEN SECRET.